Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Synods
third time, the USA Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church
in America, Deanery congregation representatives, gathered
for a joint Synod. The organiser this year was the USA
First Synod Deanery headed by Dean Thomas Vaga. The
location the Dean chose was a 200-year-old town named
Ocean Grove on the famous New Jersey shore. The town
upholds morally Methodist-Christian traditions.
The meetings were held
at the Majestic Hotel in Ocean Grove.
The small manor-type hotel
was sufficient for the Synod since the number of churches
participating, declines every year. During the last view
years, two Estonian congregations in the USA have ended
their activities and some congregations have become so
small, that they were not able to send a representative to
attend this year's meetings.
Left: USA First Synod
Dean Thomas Vaga and USA Chicago Dean Uudo Tari.
Greetings were presented
from the new Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad
Diocese Bishop Andres Taul and, from Estonia, the EELK
Archbishop Andres Põder who happened to be here visiting
the USA's Baltimore Maryland Synod. Copies of Eesti Elu
newspapers were distributed to tables, wherein church
articles and historical materials concerning the church
unification process appeared on several pages.
As a third example, the Dean used the recent publication
of opus magnum "Estonian Republic 90, Events and
Development" (Eesti Vabariik 90, sündmused ja
arengud) in which the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran
Church's activities and major events of the churches and
congregations over 60 years in exile, were set aside. The
Dean affirmed to the gathered church representatives and
guests that "we have not been destined to be erased
or to become extinct nor are we on such a path". When
the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (Eesti
Evangeeliumi Luteri Usu) congregations were established in
exile, this was done as a temporary measure, since there
was hope of returning to our homeland. This, however, did
not happen. We here on the North American continent,
"must continue a free Estonian Evangelical Lutheran
Church comprised of congregations forming a people's
church". He brought as an example the "Free
Synod" form wherein a "congregation is itself
the church's archbishop" as was written in 1925
during Estonia's independence by Pastor Harald Põld. The
Dean stressed also that during the refugee generations,
members of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church
established with their own initiative, irrespective of the
occupied Estonian Lutheran church, congregations all over
the western world. The presentation received favourable
applause from the listeners. The presentation will be
available in its entirety on the Estonian Evangelical
Lutheran Congregations League website.
Attending the Synod was a large contingency from E.E.L.K.
Toronto Saint Andrews Church. It was particularly joyful
to hear its past Chairman, Tõnu Orav, who worked with the
called to eternity Pastor and Archbishop Udo Petersoo for
over 25 years. When Pastor Petersoo was elected as the
minister for St. Andrews, Tõnu Orav was the
congregation's chairman and when Udo Petersoo was elected
as Archbishop, he asked Tõnu Orav to be a member of his
Consistory. Tõnu Orav recalled, "We organized
sending Bibles to Estonia. We helped with political and
ecclesiastical pressure and found ways to support Estonian
freedom fighters." After regaining its republic,
there was a plan to begin negotiating with the Estonian
Evangelical Lutheran Church (Eesti Evangeelse Luterliku
Kirikuga - EELK). Discussions lasted many years and were
always friendly. "Meetings took place in Sweden,
Estonia and even onboard a ship. One meeting was on the
'Estonia' ship and another was scheduled for two weeks
after its perishing. That meeting finally took place on
dry land in Estonia." Preliminary agreements were
reached, which the E.E.L.K. church body affirmed. In
Estonia, these agreements were not presented to its church
body and they disappeared from the agenda. We know what
happened. Archbishop Petersoo hoped to create close
co-operation with the Estonian church with the following
thought: "We will support each other to solve common
problems." This cooperation lasted many years,
wherein our Consistory sent one of our Consistory members
to Estonia to keep a continuous contact with the Estonian
church. Archbishop Petersoo's hope was to bring the
Lutheran Church here and the Lutheran Church working in
Estonia closer to one another, to create a program to
support the education of ministers in Estonia thereby
assuring, that our congregations in exile have an
opportunity to get ministers speaking our mother-tongue.
"Some might today say that Udo was not able to
achieve and complete his program. Udo died an untimely
death and in the midst of work he loved", said Tõnu
Orav with sadness. He continued, "Udo's principle was
that the work of the Consistory is public and must be
transparent. We did not have secrets and we solved
problems avoiding conflicts. This he achieved and this
will be forever his contribution to our church."
Tõnu Orav had asked, who were the scrutineers at the last
voting process? Were these scrutineers impartial or had
they previously promised to support church unification?
Can these scrutineers now affirm, that all votes arrived
on time, all votes were properly presented by their
congregational executives who had made such [vote]
decision at a proper executive meeting (without the congregation's
pastor applying influence and pressure)? Why has
this information been kept completely secret till now and
why aren't Consistory members, who should be aware of
this, been put under oath that this information cannot be
disclosed? Why did it take such a long time until the
voting results were disclosed? He asked also what kind of
agreements have been made with Archbishop Andres Põder
prior to and after the voting and also prior to Andres
Taul's Archbishop installation service?
Left: Archbishop Andres Põder responds to questions vastab küsimustele. Right: Church representatives.
Tõnu Orav next turned to
Archbishop Andres Põder, who was also attending the
meeting, and asked if he and the Estonian Consistory were
prepared to have some kind of a working relationship with
those congregations who are not joining the homeland
Evangelical Lutheran Church and decide to create their own
congregational League. There was no clear answer to his
question. It was explained, however, how much it costs to
maintain the Theological Institute in Estonia, where
church ministers receive Christian education as compared
to the Tartu University theological faculty, which teaches
many religious histories and values. Minister training in
the US was also compared, although we know very well how
much is needed to be invested in our youth for schooling.
The Synod's final church service took place the next day, Sunday May 15th, at The Holy Ghost Estonian Church in Lakewood, at which the following participated: Deans and Ministers Jüri Pallo and Markus Vaga, as well as Deacon Kalju Ets reading from the Bible. The liturgy was presented by Pastor Jüri Pallo, with the sermon being presented by Pastor Markus Vaga. Prayers were said by Dean Uudo Tari and the blessing by Dean Thomas Vaga. E.E.L.K. Archbishops and Deans that had served the Deanery's congregations and had now passed on were commemorated. The Holy Spirit was palpably present at this simple service promising the sustainability of our church.
Accommodated at Ocean Grove and strongly professing the church unification at the Synod, the EELK Archbishop Andres Põder together with his wife, Bishop Andres Taul together with his wife, Chancellor Urmas Viilma together with his wife and daughter, Pastor Arho Tuhkru and Fred Ise together with his wife, as well as the USA Chicago Deanery's Assistant-Dean Hendrik Laur together with his wife, did not participate in Sunday's Estonian church service held at Lakewood.
The church service was followed by a luncheon for church representatives and guests organized by the Deanery. Lunch was prepared by Ülle Saluri with the help of her husband Peep. Noteworthy is that starting from the bread, all food prepared was the handiwork of Ülle.
It had been a blessed joint Synod and church service.
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